James Peter Turner
In Campbell River, while waiting out yet another rain storm, an old man with a cane, burnished worsted slacks, a herringbone twill jacked and a dressy flat topped hat approached to admire Zippy. As he talked he tapped his cane on the sidewalk.
He remembered his bicycle in England before he immigrated to Canada in 1957. “It was a wonderful bike, it was. I dream about it sometimes,” he raised his eyebrows, “Believe it or not, I dream about it. I do.”
“You dream about your bicycle?” I was incredulous.
`”Oh yeah, I dream about it, yes I do. I used occasionally to ride, to ride it, with 272 pounds of potatoes on the carrier.”
“Oh gee,” enthused Claire, encouraging him.
“We used to go dancing and 15 or 20 of us would go you know, and if anybody got a puncture, they doubled up with somebody and have another carry the bicycle.”
“Oh cute.” said Claire.
“I traveled too, I used to go to night school in Newark, not Newark, New Jersey, but Newark, England. It was 13 miles to the college, and I went there two nights a week, all winter, by God it could sure rain. I really enjoyed that. And, this is a good climate here, one the best in the world.”
“You like it?” said Claire, looking at the pouring rain keeping us from the road.
“That’s what they tell me, beautiful climate. It’s been 40 years since I came to Campbell River and bought a business here 15th of July, 1957. Still have the business.”
“What is it?” said Claire.
“Barber shop, my son runs it and my grandson is working in there some now until he moves down to Nanaimo pretty soon. Myself, I’ve had a bunch of strokes, I’m gettin… I’m over em now. I had one at church, and they took me off to hospital. They found out what a rat I was, they started feeding me that rat poison.”
“Oh no,” we said, taken in by his little joke.
“I’ve always been in business, born in a… born in a Pub and my father died when I was 19, took over the business. I’ve always worked for myself, never worked day-work, always worked for piece work. I wanted to get paid if I earned it, didn’t want to if I didn’t deserve to get paid. I sold life insurance for 15 years, that’s the way to learn to sell, then I sold real estate, did very well at real…well I did very well in all…I was the top man on… for 15 years at my company. Not once in 15 years was I ever knocked off the top.” He tapped his cane on the sidewalk, twice for good luck.
He went on for a good 20 minutes, telling his whole life, back in England and in Campbell River. He was quite a braggart. A charming braggart, and it’s most likely all true. He was born in Tuxford in Northeast Midlands. He’s 82, married 57 years. Joined the Mormons in 1982, he said. His name is James Peter Turner, an offshoot of Turner the British painter (a favorite of mine).
“It’s a wonderful life,” he said in parting. “It’s a wonderful life.”
So, getting stuck in a rain storm outside a grocery isn’t all bad when you meet a James Peter Turner and help him live his life again. You see, his family knows all this, and is not much interested in hearing it again, but strangers, and Americans to boot, well…
(Note: At first we felt we should not call ourselves Americans, since Canadians are also part of North America. We soon learned Americans is what Canadians call people from the States.)
The rain didn’t slow and we were driven into a motel in downtown Campbell River. As usual we go for the low end, as best we can ascertain. Another good deal, $60 CAN and a full breakfast. We washed a half kilo of black grit down their drain and spread all our wet gear over the room to dry. Next morning, as I was pushing a loaded Zippy into the hall, I got a sly smile from a young black woman wearing a very very short skirt and walking the walk of a street-walker. She seemed to know I wasn’t a candidate for her services; probably figured that bicycle seat had ruined my potential as a John, or she saw Claire close behind and knew she could never compete with those legs.
Campbell River is the ultimate mill town, smaller than our familiar Port Angeles, Washington, but similar in layout, industry on the waterfront, town up the hill. But Port Angeles is making the transition to mixed economy after a mill closure and new limits on the rapid logging of the 80’s.
We have found BC drivers to be very courteous to us down-island, but the first day out of Campbell River we got run off the road by a horn blowing driver who didn’t want us there. And the further north we go the more big pickup trucks we see with the huge tires; the ones I call 7,000 pound sex organs, extensions of their drivers masculine aggression. That is one American trait I could do without in Canada.
I was a bit bummed by this encounter, and allowed my anger to release the spring holding down my middle finger. However, I soon knew we were having fun again when we raced a butterfly up a hill; we won, but paid a price in burning quads. Butterflies go fast uphill!
This day turned sunny, and at Sayward Junction we stopped for Bumbleberry pie (strawberry, rhubarb, Spartan apple, blackberries) with ice cream and coffee. Oh my.